Digital Bangladesh - Vision 2021: The Secret of Bangladesh’s Transformation

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Published on February 2, 2021
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In order to survive in this age of globalization, we must focus on information technology. It is almost impossible to keep pace with the current world without the development of information technology.

The Bangladesh Awami League announced in their election manifesto that by 2021, 50 years of independence, Bangladesh would be digital and in continuation of this Digital Bangladesh was declared on December 12, 2008. A developed country, a prosperous digital society, a transformed production system, a new knowledge-based economy are the key points of Digital Bangladesh. Digital Bangladesh is the first step towards building a science-based society. The core commitment of Digital Bangladesh is to use digital tools to alleviate poverty and reduce corruption. Its main goal is to bring every home under the digital network. Many of the steps taken to build a digital Bangladesh by 2021 have already been implemented. The main goal of digital Bangladesh is to digitalize government services.

Notable digital services are e-commerce, e-banking, e-education, e-book, e-voting, e-health service, e-filing, e-mutation, e-paper, etc. Now a lot of work can be solved online at home. Electricity, gas and water bills can be paid online. Even online registration, online income tax return, online public exam result, transportation tickets are at hand today. Money can be easily transferred from one place to another within seconds through Bikash, Rocket and Nagad. An e-book platform has been opened to spread the light of education. Arrangements are being made to read all types of textbooks through the internet. The government has already started implementing the National Information and Communication Technology policy extensively to build skilled human resources. 39 ministries have been involved in the implementation of 306 action plans. The country's first high-tech park has been constructed on 202 acres of land at Kaliakair in Gazipur to strengthen the IT sector. A project called Bangladesh e-governance has been launched to establish a network in all parts of the country. A company called ICT Corporate City Development has been set up to train ICT graduates. The government has started work on the Rooppur nuclear power project to provide an uninterrupted power supply.

A country can only be called a digital country when the country becomes e-state and all the activities of the country are conducted through the internet. Internet service is becoming more accessible today with the addition of submarine cable. Digital passport, digital national voter ID, digital land survey, digital land development tax, mobile banking, online shopping, online admission, telemedicine, are no longer a dream, now these services are in our hands. The classes of school, college and university are being conducted digitally at present. All the official activities can be done in a beautiful and easy way through Video conferencing and Zoom meeting.

Union Digital Center (UDC) has been set up in each union to ensure online government services. Each of the 64 districts Deputy Commissioners of the country has a Facebook page where they listen to common people. Work on the Access to Information Programme is underway to implement digital Bangladesh. Its primary goal is to ensure easy affordable and reliable access to quality public services for all citizens of Bangladesh. The government has a plan to bring 90 percent of the country's people under internet service by 2021. At present the people of the village are getting 200 types of services from 5865 centres. More than 6 million people are receiving services from those centres and most of them are from rural areas. Specialized digital centres have been set up for the Municipality, City Corporation, and garment workers. More than 1 crore 23 lakh people of the country get medical advice by calling 16263. Emergency services are available only by calling 999. According to government estimates, more than 10.12 crores people currently use the internet. The government has also a plan to bring 2800 services of 56 Ministries on the digital platform by 2025. 385 land offices have already been digitized. 3800 unions have been brought under high-speed internet facility through Digital Center Optical Fiber. The remaining 700 unions will be given optical fiber connections by 2021. Digital labs have been set up in 8000 educational institutions to create ICT employment and more than 5000 labs will be set up soon. According to the ICT Ministry, about 11000 youths have been employed in 5865 Union Digital Centers. About six and a half lakh IT freelancers have been created. 50000 young men and women are being trained under the Learning & Earning project. Already 250 Agriculture Information Centers have been set up. A pilot project called Digital Village has been taken up in 100 villages to digitalize agriculture. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister has already given 2500 taka to each of the 50 lakh helpless families through mobile banking. More than 10 lakh garment workers have been paid through mobile banking. The state minister for ICT, Junaid Ahmed Palak, has said, 18000 offices up to the upazila have been brought under fiber optical cable and there are plans to bring 1,15000 organizations under it.

The COVID-19 cataclysm has brought into focus the potentials of digital communication in everyday life. Digital technology was crucial to confront the consequences of staying at home as most of the countries in the world endured lockdown. The responsible authorities have succeeded in ensuring sustainable access to disaster prevention over the early days of the pandemic. Different countries of the world have steadily changed the modalities of services with their long-term commitments in this field. This has made it possible for people to continue their activities in education, remote employment, and carrying out the momentum of growth through e-commerce.

Like other countries of the world, the imposition of restrictions on people's movements a mechanism of restraining the catastrophe of COVID-19 presented the Bangladeshi government with avenues for transforming various services online. The experience of online services might be better in developed countries as they have better infrastructure relating to digitisation. However, Bangladesh is not lagging far behind as compared to other countries. Naturally, in view of continued efforts to implementing activities aiming at establishing a digital Bangladesh despite the lack of awareness of a vast majority of the countrymen about the use of digital services, was a challenge for the government to meet the enormous demands of the online services during the pandemic. However, the government took the challenge to cope with the new normal lifestyle triggered by COVID-19 as the establishment of a digital Bangladesh was one of the electoral pledges of the present government. The government has been carrying out different policies and strategies under the direction of Sajeeb Wazed Joy, ICT Advisor to the Prime Minister for transforming different services online during the pandemic.

Though the government is yet to implement all the strategies necessary to digitise everything, they have indeed attained tremendous success in transforming many of the online services. If we examine the state of digitisation from the perspective of different sectors, it becomes clear that the government has started realising its target in almost every sector. Farmers are receiving different types of information using various apps and using online customer care services of the agriculture department. They could even get updates on weather forecast using the apps. They can also sell their products using the apps during the pandemic.
Online based delivery of different services has improved dramatically. Now, people can fill their application form for e-passport; pay the application fee and schedule an interview for the submission of the application from their homes. There has been a revolution in the context of banking services. People can now deal with their banking transactions online. Telephone banking like bKash, Nagad and Rocket has made people's life very easy. Nowadays, the users do not require to wait at long queues to pay the bills of their utility services. These bills can be paid through online and telephone banking from home. This has saved people from exposing themselves from getting contaminated by the lethal coronavirus.

The growth in internet access has contributed to a significant increase in the number of cellular subscribers. Currently, around 160 million people use mobile phones in the country. The social network has become an influential networking tool that goes beyond national territorial boundaries. Being the citizens of the global village, our people can stay connected with the citizens of different countries. People can now speak to their relatives and family members living abroad through different apps using the internet connection. This has brought a revolution in the field of communication in the country.

The student community is the worst victim of the COVID-19 pandemic as all the educational institutions in the country have remained shuttered since March 18, 2020. Due to fear of experiencing a prolonged academic career, the students and their guardians have become profoundly disappointed. On the other hand, there is an apprehension that the student dropout rates at the primary level might increase. Many of the students are also terrified of being spoiled as we know that "an idle brain is the devil's workshop". The government has nevertheless made every attempt to continue online education. The government has adopted numerous policies at the primary and secondary level to prevent students from being adversely impacted. One strategy of the government is to offer teaching to the primary and secondary students through the parliament television channel. Of course, the efficacy of this strategy is doubtful, but they aim to help students keep in contact with their teachers and the academic environment.

With the leadership of the government, the private and public universities have been taking online classes to save the students' academic career. Implementing such a decision was not an easy task as it requires strong internet connections and uninterrupted electricity. The government has negotiated with different internet service providers to offer low-cost internet connection that has helped students to stay connected to their classes online. BTCL has been offering very low-cost internet service to the students using student sim card. Of course, the public university students are still struggling as they could not sit for examinations online in contrast with the students from private universities who are completing their degrees online. This is due to the obligations of the public university authorities to abide by the acts and rules that prohibit them to take online examinations. Despite having some challenges, we must appreciate the accelerating growth of digitisation that has helped students to continue with their education.

The admission process at different levels at the educational institutions is now mostly being done online. The government has successfully completed the admission of the students at the intermediate level through the online system right at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. All the admission related activities at the tertiary levels are being conducted online nowadays. This has not only helped the students and their guardians in saving them for being exposed to any contamination but also ease the burden of the guardians related to travel and its associated expenses.

The online marketing industry has expanded quite rapidly due to the development of ICT even during the pandemic. When people are urged to stay at home, the growth of transaction of online business is several times higher than before. People nowadays prefer to buy and sell products online through numerous online portals. This has not only made our lives very easy but also created an opportunity for the government to earn a huge amount of revenues in the form of TAX and VAT.

In addition to posing health-related problems, COVID-19 pandemic has also created tremendous pressures on the government to provide its services and sustain the economic momentum. Thus, the transformation of online services was one of the most important options for the government to sustain in such a critical situation. And the government has succeeded in coping with the new normal life-transforming traditional services into digital forms. The relentless works of the government under the direction of the ICT Adviser to the Prime Minister has allowed the government to overcome these challenges. The commitment that was made in 2008 has started to be realised in full swing. Of course, more efforts and time are required to optimise the maximum benefit of digitisation. However, we must step in the right direction, if we wish to manage to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic successfully. The day is not far when the country will be considered a role model of digitisation in South Asia.

To tackle the challenges of 4th industrial revolution, Bangladesh is focusing on creating skilled human resources who will have proper digital knowledge to cope with fast-changing development in coming days. Till date, the government has provided ICT-based training to 585,000 people.

Women and specially-abled people are getting focus in these training. Till December 2020, the government has trained 2300 women and 5400 specially-abled persons. Government has also taken special initiatives for specially-abled people like empowering specially-abled people through ICT and special job fair. Since 2016, Bangladesh has been organizing National IT Competition for Youth with Disabilities. Winners of this competition get the chance to participate in the global IT competition for youth with disabilities. In 2019, 2 Bangladeshi youth with disabilities won in two categories.

Government is also providing ICT training to the youths of former enclaves. Till today 1200 youths have received 'Basic ICT Literacy and IT Support Technician' training. For this purpose, the government has also built two Digital Service Employment and Training Center in former enclave areas.

Bangladesh has created an e-learning platform called Muktopath which is the largest Bangla-based e-learning platform. More than 1 million students are registered in this platform who can get access to 180 courses. Even government employees can also learn from this platform. More than 100 thousand students and 3000 government employees have completed courses in Muktopath platform.

Since 2009, the government has created 38 thousand multimedia classrooms. For creating contents for these classrooms, 250,000 teachers and 1650 master trainers have been trained. Among them, 1000 teachers have received training in programming, graphics design, web and mobile application development.

Teen Portal or Kishor Portal is an initiative where 2.7 million students are connected and can learn from more than 31,000 contents.